As election season draws to a close, Michigan voters are looking forward to more than finding out the results. Nov. 7 will also bring much-needed relief from the onslaught of political advertisements that have dominated local airwaves.
But while people have come to expect negative ads from the presidential campaigns, Michiganders (whether television, Hulu or YouTube viewers) are seeing plenty of in-state claims that need some serious fact-checking. With six hotly contested proposals on the 2012 ballot and myriad other key races, special interest groups have spent millions on ad buys for the election.
Overall campaign spending in Michigan has climbed to $175 million this year. Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun's group The People Should Decide spent a record-breaking $31 million on Proposal 6 alone.
Races for local positions, the state House and the Supreme Court aren't exempt from the ad blitz. The cast of "West Wing" even got together to make a supportive ad for Bridget McCormack, Michigan Supreme Court candidate and the sister of one of the show's stars.
With so many advertisements floating around, it can be difficult to parse the facts from the fiction. Luckily, the non-partisan, nonprofit Michigan Truth Squad analyzes political advertisements and calls foul on the misleading claims and outright lies. Michigan Truth squad is a project of the Center for Michigan.
Head to the Michigan Truth Squad website to see all of the TV, radio, print and online political claims that don't pass muster, and below, check out some of the worst offenders.
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MIchigan Truth Squad calls a flagrant foul on this ad that claims Supreme Court candidate Bridget McCormack "volunteered to help free a terrorist." While some facts are correct, its simplification of the justice system misrepresents McCormack. According to the site, McCormack nominally represented Wahldof Abdul Mokit, who was freed from Guantanamo in 2007, as part of her work for a legal and educational nonprofit. McCormack never technically met her client before he was freed by the Bush administration. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison by his home country of Tajikistan for belonging to what the U.S. designates a terrorist group, but he was not tried in the country.
This ad from the opposition supporting Mary McCormack and two other candidates, Connie Kelley and Shelia Johnson, also gets a flagrant foul from the Truth Squad. In the ad, a woman whose daughter Lily was killed at the hands of a child abuser says, "for years, Michigan's Supreme Court has turned its back on victims of sexual assault and abuse.” According to the site, a Democratic Party spokeswoman said there was no connection between Lily's case and the broader issues before the court, and Truth Squad found no evidence to back up the claim that the Court has mistreated victims of abuse. Lily's stepfather was convicted of her death and sentenced to life in prison.
Another ad from Michigan Dems doesn't call out or support particular candidates, but it makes insufficiently-supported claims that victims of crimes like Jerry Sandusky's child abuse would not be protected under the current, Republican-led Supreme Court. A voiceover says: "The Penn State scandal was a tragedy that didn't have to happen. Lives were destroyed because top university officials covered up the abuse for years. Child abuse victims deserve their day in court, but here in Michigan they would be denied justice." The Truth Squad calls a foul on the ad "for attempting to use a recent, emotionally resonant case in Pennsylvania courts to predict the results of Michigan cases without detailed explanations of how that would happen."
The Truth Squad calls a flagrant foul on Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs, the group that supports Proposal 3, which would require the state to obtain 25 percent of its energy from renewable resources by the year 2025. In their ad, they use the actual proposal language to suggest that a "yes" vote on Prop 3 means utility bills can't increase by more than one percent annually, which is untrue. The quoted figure of Illinois energy bills decreasing by $176 million is also misleading, because while there was a $176 million savings, it was not just for bill payers.
Numerous ads in support of Proposal 6, which would require a public vote to build a bridge from Michigan to Canada, have incorrect claims. The ads are put out by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun's group The People Should Decide, and widely said to be an effort to protect the income generated by his Bridge. This year, Gov. Rick Snyder and the Canadian government came to an agreement to build a new bridge crossing between Detroit and Windsor, which would ease traffic and mean a loss of revenue for Moroun. In the agreement, Canada will cover Michigan's share of the costs and recoup them through tolls. The People Should Decide ads make false claims that there will be hidden costs and future generations will end up paying for the bridge. In addition, a woman in this ad says, "How can they tell us that there's no money for education or schools but there's money for a bridge?" Again, the funding for the bridge would come from Canada, not the state's budget, and the bridge would not affect education funding. Similar claims are made about fire and police spending. The Michigan Truth Squad points out that Moroun also backs Proposal 5, which would require a 2/3 majority vote of the Legislature to increase taxes, which would likely make additional allocations towards police and firefighters difficult to pass.
Michigan Truth Squad calls a flagrant foul on an ad attacking Sen. Debbie Stabenow that calls her "the worst senator ever" without support. The statement that she "voted to raise taxes 150 times" is also not accurate, according to the Hoekstra campaign's own source material.
The Freedom Defense Fund, a group that supports candidate Kerry Bentivolio for Congress in the 11th district, released this ad that claims opponent Syad Taj relies on funding from the Democratic Socialists of America, counts the "extremist" group Council For American Islamic Relations among his supporters and "wants to advance Muslim power in America." According to the Detroit Free Press, the ad's claims aren't backed up by facts. The papers states Taj attended a fundraiser hosted by a board member of the Democratic Socialists of America. The group CAIR has raised $825 for Taj, according to campaign finance reports. Taj was quoted saying that if he were elected to Congress, there would be three Muslim members, enough to form a caucus, which forms the basis of the ad's claim that Taj wants to advance Muslim power. Taj told The Huffington Post he firmly believes in the separation of church and state.
What’s the money for? The media profits from political ads, which are largely negative, fuel cynicism, and shrink the voter pool.